[This letter graciously has been shared with the Victorian Web by Eunice and Ron Shanahan from their website, Letters from the Past.]

This letter is from Edward Warren to his brother, and is very easy to read as the writing is beautifully legible — despite various flourishes with the quill pen. It is written from Victualling Office, Jamaica 29th Septbr 1815, and has been extremely interesting to research as I knew little about the history and postal history of the Caribbean. However, once I joined the internet mailing list for Jamaica, the information came in thick and fast. Thanks to various members, I have now collected all kinds of information about Jamaica, Plymouth Dock and the ship H.M. Brig Goldfinch.

The letter is addressed to Mr Thomas Warren, No 17 Trafalgar Place, Stoke, Plymouth Dock. The postal markings are very poor. Firstly, there is a datestamp with fleuron at the bottom, with the name JAMAICA only partially struck, but a clear date 7 OC 1815, and secondly a very poor London date stamp — not only applied on the seal of the letter but it is split where the letter was opened at the seal so that the receiving date stamp is completely illegible. However, there is a very clear charge mark 1/10. This charge is made up of 1/3d (one shilling and three pence) being the rate from the West Indies to England, in force from 1812, plus the inland rate using the 1805 rates, which was 7d for a distance between 50 and 80 miles, and this distance was about 65 miles.

Warren letter cover

The letter has a note in the bottom left hand corner: By H.M. Brig Goldfinch and is dated 29 Sept 1815. I found out from the Plymouth Council website that :

"In 1690 the first Royal Dockyard opened on the banks of the Tamar west of Plymouth. Further docks were built in 1727, 1762 and 1793, and a huge naval complex was later established, including the communities of Plymouth Dock and Stonehouse. The Navy's role during war against Napoleon's France was pivotal, and in 1812 a mile-long breakwater was laid to protect the fleet. Throughout the nineteenth century the population and physical size of the towns increased dramatically. In 1824 Plymouth Dock was renamed Devonport"

Trafalgar road sign

In fact, Trafalgar Place is still in existence, but now named Trafalgar Place Lane: the photograph was taken by a contact called Mike.

Jamaica has a long postal history. It was the first British Colony to establish a Post Office, a postmaster being appointed on 31st October 1671. The British GPO assumed responsibility for Jamaica's external mails in 1755 and retained this until 1860. Any vessel could be used to carry the mail, including warships. After 1783 mails for the West Indies were made up twice monthly at the General Post Office in London. They were taken to Falmouth by mail coach to arrive on the Saturday evening and the packet vessels sailed (weather and tide permitting) from Falmouth on the first Wednesday of every month for Jamaica and the Leeward Islands, and on the third Wednesday for the Leeward islands only. Prepayment was not compulsory until after 1820 when the mail system was overhauled. In this case, The Times newspaper reported that on 8 August 1815 the Goldfinch, gun-brig, sailed with mail for Jamaica. Later, on 6 December 1815, The Times reported that a message from Portsmouth advised that the Goldfinch had arrived from the Brazils so this letter may not have been sent directly to England from Jamaica.

Warren letter

Now to the letter. The first sentence shows that the mail was received from the Government ship and he wrote the reply to go back on the same vessel.

My Dear Brother

By His Majesty's Brig Goldfinch I received your favor of the 5th Ultimo, and am very sorry to find the account of your Health is not so satisfactory as I expected to receive, but trust as you are now free from fatigue and anxiety, you will soon feel the good effects of the prudent & wise measure you have adopted in retiring from labour for at least a twelfmonth.

It gives me great pleasure that my remittance of 115 Sterling reached you in safety, and am truly gratified that it came at so seasonable a time my Sister has acknowleged the receipt of the Bill which She says it would be necessary to discount to turn it into Cash immediately — I hope you will have no trouble about the Bill for 15 — at any rate Mr R Grant must eventually pay the amount.

At the end of the Year I will transmit you a Statement of Accounts with my Mother's Estate & Yourself up to that time when I will see what I can do for your further relief and assistance — I will of course be then endebted to the Estate something considerable — whatever it may be will no doubt appear clear and satisfactory.

I wish most sincerely I could make it convenient to pay a visit to England to see those who are most dear to me — indeed I may say I have neither friend or relation in this Island — I fear it will be some time yet before I will be able to effect it.

Warren signature

Remember me most affectionately to Mrs W — Whom I am happy was well as also the 3 little ones — and believe me to be
My Dear Brother

Yours ever affectionately
Edw. B. Warren"

My usual line of research has always been books, but in this case I found much more information on the internet, and exchanged e-mails with several people who all shared an interest in the history of Jamaica. I was told that Edward B Warren, the writer of the letter, is recorded in the 1808 Almanac, so he had been in Jamaica since at least that time. No wonder he wished he could get back home to see his relatives. He was employed at the Victualling Office and Dorothy advised me that this was probably at H.M. Dockyard at Port Royal. An entry in The Handbook of Jamaica 1884-1885 records that it "contains the official residence of the Commodore and his staff. It is equipped with a well-found machine shop, where steam engines and the machinery of war ships are almost constantly being repaired."

In addition, Paul advised me that the dockyard acted as a base for ships in order that they could revictual, replenish ammunition etc. and top up with men, to replace those sent home in prizes or as invalids, who were either casualties of the war or more likely, of the climate. Jamaica was an important base during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period. Also, when the war of 1812 against the USA started, the West Indies became even more important, not just as a source of sugar and spices, but as a jumping off point to maintain a presence on the long eastern sea board of the States and the final excursion to New Orleans. In November 1814 the Times reported that there were 3 line-of-battle ships, three frigates, a large troop ship and 10 transports, along with a number of other brigs etc., preparing for an operation against the US.

As for the Goldfinch built in 1808, she was one of the 115 Cherokee Class Brig-sloops of 179 tons with 10 guns built between 1807 and 1830, many of which were used as packet brigs, She spent much of her early life, during the war, providing aid and assistance to the Spanish and supporting fleet operating on the coast of France by acting as a despatch vessel. The Times of 1 September 1815 reports that 'the Goldfinch will be one of many vessels which will be paid-off and put into Ordinary' (reserve). She was paid off at the end of the war at Sheerness in December 1815. Then in 1816 she was based at Sheerness, and by 1830 her 10 guns had been reduced to 6, and she had been fitted out as a packet, based at Falmouth, carrying the mail and a small number of passengers between the West Indies, Lisbon and Mediterranean bases like Gibraltar and Malta. Some of this information was obtained from a really informative website of Mike and Jane in England for ships of the old Navy.

Another contact — Liz from Melbourne — forwarded a snippet which just shows what kind of information is available when one starts researching,

Edward Bransfield was born in Ballinacurra, Co. Cork in 1785 and press-ganged into the Royal Navy in 1803. He rose through the ranks from Ordinary Seaman (HMS Ville de Paris 1803), Able Seaman (HMS Ville de Paris 1805), Midshipman (HMS Royal Sovereign 1808) and 2nd Master (HMS Royal Sovereign 1812) to Acting Master (HMS Goldfinch 1812).

She then added a note: "Nothing to do with your letter other than he may have seen the mail bag". I really like that idea.

The contents of the letter are not of earth-shattering importance, but it shows that the families were able to keep in contact and conduct financial business at a time of wars and naval engagements.

Related material

Acknowledgements & references

Members of the Jamaica mailing list; Paul and Mike in England; Liz in Melbourne; David Robinson "for the port and carriage of letters"

Stuart Rossiter & John Flower: The Stamp Atlas.

Created 2001

Last modified 13 July 2016